Allen Ginsberg’s Top 10 Favorite Films

Before Net­flix killed Block­buster, Block­buster killed the mom and pop video store. Maybe you had your favorite ma and pa shop, where under the sur­face of new releas­es you’d find the quirky, curat­ed selec­tions that reflect­ed the mind of the own­er.

When Allen Gins­berg lived in New York’s East Vil­lage, it was Kim’s Video, opened in 1987 by Yong­man Kim. With so many artists fre­quent­ing its St. Marks Place loca­tion, Kim asked its more famous cus­tomers to share their lists of top ten favorite films. Gins­berg oblig­ed. And you can now find his top 10 list online (in two parts: Part 1Part 2) thanks to The Allen Gins­berg Project.

Gins­berg’s old­est choice is Sergei Eisen­stein’s 1925 Bat­tle­ship Potemkin, which you can watch above. One must won­der if it was the very poet­ic edit­ing that drew Gins­berg to the film, or some­thing else, per­haps, maybe the film’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary nature?

Many of Gins­berg’s choic­es reflect his inter­est in poet­ic real­ism, the French film move­ment that com­bined sto­ries of real folks with some­times very impres­sion­ist cam­era work. Three of its most famous pro­po­nents, Julian Duvivi­er, Jean Renoir, and Mar­cel Carné appear on the Gins­berg list.

Julian Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko (1937) is set in that most won­der­ful loca­tion for the Beat poets, Tang­iers, and inspired Gra­ham Greene to write The Third Man. Mar­cel Carné’s clas­sic Chil­dren of Par­adise (1945) makes the list, as does his 1938 film noir Port of Shad­ows. Jean Renoir’s The Grand Illu­sion, which still tops many top 10 film lists today, is here too.

Anoth­er French­man, Jean Cocteau gets on the list twice, with two films from his Orphic tril­o­gy, The Blood of a Poet (1930) and Orpheé (1950). The mix of the dream­like and the erot­ic make a per­fect choice for the poet.

Gins­berg saves space for Beat cin­e­ma, a lot of which is still not on DVD. Ron Rice’s The Flower Thief (1960) is often called one of the main films of the Beat Gen­er­a­tion, a large­ly impro­vised, low bud­get film about the artists and writ­ers of San Fran­cis­co. It sad­ly remains unavail­able on DVD, and one won­ders if the film was even avail­able at Kim’s, as it doesn’t appear to be on VHS either.

More avail­able are his final two choic­es, Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s Pull My Daisy (1959), which was named after (and exe­cut­ed in a style sim­i­lar to) an Exquis­ite Corpse-style poem writ­ten by Gins­berg, Jack Ker­ouac, and Neil Cas­sady in the late ‘40s. Also large­ly impro­vised, the film involves bohemi­an par­ty crash­ers who make life com­pli­cat­ed for a man and wife try­ing to impress a respectable bish­op who’s come for din­ner.

Last­ly, Gins­berg names Har­ry Smith’s vision­ary cut-up ani­ma­tion mas­ter­piece Heav­en and Earth Mag­ic (1957 — 1962), which you can see above. Smith was not just a superb film­mak­er, but a great influ­ence on the Beats through his inter­est in psy­che­delics and mys­ti­cism, as well as the man behind the Amer­i­can Anthol­o­gy of Folk Music on Folk­ways records. A great friend of Gins­berg, Har­ry Smith gets the final tip of the hat.

via The Allen Gins­berg Project

Relat­ed Con­tent:

13 Lec­tures from Allen Ginsberg’s “His­to­ry of Poet­ry” Course (1975)

The First Record­ing of Allen Gins­berg Read­ing “Howl” (1956)

Rare Footage of Allen Gins­berg, Jack Ker­ouac & Oth­er Beats Hang­ing Out in the East Vil­lage (1959)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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